Empty storefronts at Grogan’s Mill Village Center over the past year and a half have raised concerns about the center’s survival among area business owners and residents.

Bruce Cunningham, president of the Grogan’s Mill Village Association, said the main issue has been the lack of an anchor at the center since the Randalls grocery store closed at the location in February 2020.

“We have been in touch with the township, the county, Howard Hughes Corp., the owner of the strip center, Albertsons and others who have an interest in the center,” Cunningham said. “We have contacted Aldi and other supermarkets to see if they are willing to come in; they are not.”Cunningham said a selling point the GMVA has been attempting to emphasize is the center’s location close to heavily traveled areas such as Market Street and I-45.

“Almost every property owner that we talk with agrees that the best use will be a mixed residential, commercial property,” Cunningham said.

Jeff Tinsley, a senior adviser with The J. Beard Real Estate Co. who is in charge of leasing the center, said the lack of an anchor and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have presented challenges for businesses in the area.

According to Tinsley, the Grogan’s Mill Village Center has an 85% occupancy rate for retail space with four noted vacancies as of Sept. 24. Retail occupancy for The Woodlands overall is 94.8% as of September, according to commercial real estate company Caldwell Cos. Information on the status of several spaces leased in the center by other agencies was not available as of press time.

“[This] is somewhat consistent with the other village centers in The Woodlands,” Tinsley said. “Panther Creek Shopping Center, who also lost their Randalls anchor, has a higher vacancy rate than Grogan’s Mill. In the last several years, the other village centers have experienced an uptick in vacancy.”

Ongoing issue

As an area resident for 32 years, Cunningham said he believes there has been a decline of business in the village center since 2008.

“The GMVA recognized that the center was in decline, and we were worried that Randalls would leave because of lack of business,” he said. “It was that concern that led us to set up the farmers market so that the shopping center would become better known and recognized.”

Cunningham said resident feedback has led to the GMVA encouraging the current owner of the village center to bring in either a bakery or a delicatessen, and the owners of the local Shell station are in the process of converting to a convenience store to carry basic groceries such as bread and milk.

As an entity in charge of leasing the center, Tinsley said the J. Beard Real Estate Co. is optimistic.

“While there’s been some lingering uncertainty given the ongoing pandemic, leasing activity has risen as consumer activity has shown signs of improvement in 2021,” Tinsley said. “Many of the other tenants remain hopeful that another grocery anchor tenant will come in, which will help revitalize the center and stimulate community patronage and support.”

Cunningham said the GMVA is also trying to help businesses in the center by helping them improve their social media presence.

“We have hired a semiprofessional social media person to take photos and videos of their operation and show them how to best display them in Facebook and Instagram,” he said.